Test Drive: BMW i3 vs. Chevy Bolt

Test Drives | February 13th, 2017 by 36
BMW i3 Chevy Bolt comparison 750x500

When it was launched in 2014, the BMW i3 quickly became one of the most award winning electric vehicles collecting multiple awards including Green Car …

When it was launched in 2014, the BMW i3 quickly became one of the most award winning electric vehicles collecting multiple awards including Green Car of the Year and UK Car of the Year. Fast forward to 2017, and the Bolt is the newest EV and it is racking up multiple awards fast, including Motor Trend Car of the Year, and 2017 North American Car of the Year. The Bolt even landed on Car and Driver’s 2017 Ten Best. Since 2014, the BMW i3 has been updated with an optional bigger battery pack. So how do these two stack up in a head to head comparison?

Cost and Range
BMW i3 winter test drive 8 750x453

When people talk about electric vehicles the first two things they want to know are the cost and the range. Herein lies the biggest differences between the i3 and the Bolt. The BMW i3 has a 22 kWh battery pack standard and an 33 kWh optional, both are fitted with 96 cells. The 33 kWh pack has more energy dense cells, 94Ah vs the standard 60Ah version. The Bolt comes with a much larger 60 kWh battery pack composed of 288 cells, EPA rated at 238 mile range. CNET drove 240.4 miles on a full charge in the Bolt along California Highway 1 and remarkably had 17 miles of range left. I’ve owned a 22 kWh BMW i3 for over two years and 80 miles is a pretty solid estimate on a full charge. I’ve gone more if the weather is just right and less in the cold. The EPA rated range on the i3 33 kWh pack i3 is 114 miles.
Chevy Bolt test drive 08 750x499

The Bolt Base MSRP is $37,495, factor in Federal Tax credit and you have the coveted 200+ mile range EV for less than $30,000. The Base MSRP for the i3 is $43,395 for the 22kWh version or $44,595 for the 33 kWh version. Shipping charges are included in as listed MSRPs.

The i3 and the Bolt are surprisingly similar. Both are compact five door hatchbacks and given their fold down rear seats, really rather practical. I’ve fitted a full size bass musical instrument in an i3 before and the Bolt’s cargo capacity is even bigger.

The i3’s rear suicide doors are a pain in tight parking spots though. The i3 practicality is some what hammered in that it can’t really fit roof racks on its smooth CFRP Roof.

The Bolt comes with a nice set up for roof racks.

Both EVs have the battery pack along the bottom of the car, though the Bolt packs extra cells up under the back seat too.

The i3 and the Bolt use electric motors that provide instant off the line acceleration and are a blast to drive. The i3 is rear-wheel drive, whereas the Bolt is front-wheel drive. As far as heating goes, the i3 BEV uses a heat pump for cabin heat, where the Bolt uses a traditional “toaster” style resistance heater. In the cold weather, the Bolt offers heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, whereas there is no heated steering wheel for U.S. BMW i3 customers and only the front seats are heated.

Regarding materials, the i3 is the first mass market car made from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic and though the underbody and crash structure are metal alloy, the i3 overall is incredibly light weight at just 2900 lbs. The Bolt’s frame and body are made of more traditional steel alloy frame, and weighs in around 3600 lbs.


Driving Dynamics

Perhaps the biggest surprise driving either one of these EVs is that they are both fun to drive. This is a huge improvement over early electric cars that were frequently compared to golf carts. Interestingly, the i3 always drives like an EV, meaning one pedal driving is the only mode the car comes with. With the Bolt, Chevrolet allows typical automatic transmission style driving, however bumping the gear lever down a second time, true one pedal EV driving is engaged. The Bolt does come with an interesting lever on the left side of the steering wheel that engages regen-braking. It is extremely easy to use, pull it and the car slows via regen braking at an enhanced pace.

The BMW on paper at least should be the most fun to drive because of the rear wheel drive nature of the car and the i3’s low, low curb weight. Combine this with instant torque, a quick turning radius and the i3 is a blast around town. BMW knows this and even highlighted the i3’s low speed handling prowess with an autocross during its international launch in Amsterdam. The disappointing part, is that these dynamics are gone on the highway.

The i3 gets blown around on even mild cross winds and can feel tipsy on the freeway if steering inputs are too quick. BMW i3 owners report that this goes away with putting after market springs on the car, but to me BMW shouldn’t make a car that doesn’t handle well on the freeway, even if it is designed as a “city car.” BMW is rumored to be coming out with an i3 S  which I suspect will handle better.

The Bolt’s driving dynamics are almost the opposite of the BMW i3’s. Of the line it is very quick. In fact, the Bolt is quicker from 0-60 at 6.5 seconds compared to the i3’s 7.0 to 7.2s. The Bolt is a front wheel drive and under heavy acceleration can exhibit torque steer. The Bolt does have a longer wheel base and weighs about 600 lbs more than the i3. This translates into much better highway speed stability. The Bolt I drove on California Highways had no problem zipping along at 75 mph in heavy traffic. It is very stable and handled cross winds and quick steering inputs needed to zip in and out of traffic with aplomb. There was no tipsy nature to it like there is with the i3.

Technology

Both the i3 and the Bolt come with excellent smartphone apps that allow you to check on the state of the battery and the location. Both will allow you to turn on the cabin heater and precondition the car before departing on your journey. This is especially important in severe cold climates where you can use the power from the charger to warm the car and not use battery helping extend range. Expect both to be equally effected by severe cold and severe heat, as both extremes of temperatures stress batteries and make them less efficient.

The Bolt comes with a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot whereas the BMW i3 uses cellular data to locate, perform certain functions and update traffic but will not function as a WiFi hotspot. For navigation, the Bolt requires use of your smartphone’s Apple Car Play or Android Auto. Some may like this and some may not. You can use the Bolt’s WiFi hotspot to help keep data usage on your cell phone down, but the Bolts data costs extra beyond a free trial.

Both EVs require trips to the dealer to get updates as there are no over the air updates. Neither electric vehicle has a Head-Up Display, however I’ve used both cars navigation and both perform well. The i3 and the Bolt have two LCD screens – one for the instrument cluster and one for the navigation system, and they both customizable.

For the Bolt, I wish that Active Cruise Control was at least an option. In stop-and-go traffic in an electric vehicle with one pedal driving, I have found it invaluable. Though not standard in the i3, it is at least optional. For fast charging, DC charging is standard on the i3 versus optional on the Bolt. Standard 32 Amp charging will take about 9 hours to recharge a fully depleted Bolt battery pack which doesn’t lend itself well to road trips. Chevrolet tells me roughly 75 percent of the Bolts being shipped right now have DC charging spec’d. BMW made this mistake on the i3 when it was launched and then promptly made DC charging standard on all i3s.

The BMW i3’s materials are of a higher quality and the entire feel of the i3 is more head turning and futuristic.

With the Bolt, though Chevrolet shows you really can have a 200 mile+ range EV and not have to spend a ton to get it. Time and tide wait for no man, and in the EV realm, price and range are king. So in the comparison, the Bolt takes the crown. The Bolt has more twice the range and costs less, accelerates faster while carrying more. If you have a BMW i3, I wouldn’t sell it to buy a Bolt. However, if you are in the market for a new EV, I’d definitely take a long look at the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.

This comparison keeps to the pure EV versions of the i3. There is a range extender i3, but this, obviously, has a gas tank and emissions sticker and is best compared to the Chevy Volt.

36 responses to “Test Drive: BMW i3 vs. Chevy Bolt”

  1. disqus_9gkAByIhHf says:

    I just bought a 2014 CPO i3 Rex two weeks ago. I probably should have waited for the Bolt to arrive in my area to test it out first, but a few things gave me pause. First, the price. Even after incentives lease rates for a fully loaded premier would have been around $500 a month. Too much for a small Chevy with an economy car interior in my opinion. Second, I read a number of reviews that stated the interior is very cheap and the front seats are uncomfortable. Third, after owning a Chevy Volt for a few months after I downsized from an Infiniti FX50 I decided that I really rather be in a luxury brand again. The Bolt is exciting and certainly an accomplishment, but for me it is still too expensive for what it offers.

  2. Electron-15 says:

    Not a bad review/side by side, but as an i3 owner I easily get 90-95 miles every day in Florida running in Comfort mode and driving like every other car (I average 4.8 miles per KWH). I detect no issues at all when driving at 75 mph on the highway. I have a 2014 with 20 inch wheels ( I have a 2017 with the 94 ah battery due to arrive this week). Some people have mentioned issues with the tall narrow tires catching grooves in highway and making it appear as if it’s blowing around, perhaps that is the issue here.
    What the review didn’t mention about the i3 is the really nice Navigation system tied in with XM traffic and the iDrive control so your eyes never leave the road to make selections and your hands never touch a screen and leave fingerprints and smudges on them. The 10 inch screen is up high enough so your eyes can see the road while looking at the information on the screen. Also the turning radius on the i3 has to be about the best for any car with a 101 inch wheelbase. Speaking of wheelbase , the i3 wheelbase is 1.4 inches shorter than the Bolt, but overall length the Bolt is 7 inches longer! It is true the i3 is funky looking, but the Bolt looks like a Honda fit to me. Both cars are good, but each has it’s own purpose. The i3 is the only car under 100k dollars to use Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, The same material Boeing is using in their new Dreamliner aircraft. The i3 is built using water, wind and solar power. The Carbon Fiber is produced in Washington state. I would suggest a drive of both, and realize the pricing is not that far apart, but the quality, ergonomics and thought are quite different. For certain we need more cars like the both of them.

    • Sander says:

      Agreed on the touchscreen. I don’t get why a touchscreen in a car is promoted as a feature. A touchscreen one cannot control blindly, it has to be close, and it gets dirty. I much prefer iDrive control.
      I do feel the i3 is nervous in crosswinds.

      Congrats on your new i3!

    • nordlyst says:

      Why would anyone care that the material is also used in a Dreamliner?

      It’s a good thing that it’s lightweight and stiff. But frankly BMWs efficiency achievements aren’t very impressive next to those of the Hyundai Ioniq, which travels farther on a smaller battery pack without using such exotic and expensive materials.

      For sure the cars are different enough that either may make sense for some people. But there is no question that the Bolt provides much better value, and it really is the only choice (among the two) for most people who want to have only one car, and want that one to be electric.

      If things go to plan we should see at least three new 200+ mile options on the market by 2018. Model 3 should start shipping later this year (though “should” is not “will”). The new Leaf will be revealed in September and on sale worldwide before year-end. And the Ioniq gets a bigger battery pack and at least 200 miles “by 2018”, although it’s unclear if this means as a 2019-model launched in autumn 2018 or something earlier than that.

      I look forward to the day when the selection of EV models is as varied as today’s menu of fossil cars. And that day will almost certainly arrive sometime before 2025.

      • Electron-15 says:

        Material is important to me, maybe not to you. the newest commercial jet uses CFRP because the strength to weight ratio, and it’s a glimpse into the future, which is what EVs should be. The EPA has pulled a FAST ONE here on the Ioniq’s efficiency. I just got a 2017 BMW i3 with the 94 ah (33kw) battery. The EPA rates it at 114 miles, I have had the car for 3 weeks and CONSISTENTLY get between 132 and 145 miles of range, in COMFORT mode. I suspect it’s because the i3 is sold in northern states (I live in Florida) and cold temps will reduce range (battery impact plus using heat). I know the KIA Soul EVE is only available in a few states and since Hyundai and Kia are the same company basically, perhaps the EPA ‘Testing’ is only done is a certain temperature range?

        I average 4.5 miles per kwh, my last trip was 5.1. I drive it just like any other car I ever owned. I did take it easy (on a 60 mile run), after charging it it indicated 153 miles of range available. I drove away taking it very easy, in Comfort mode, but no air, sunroof cracked open and after 11 miles it indicated 149 miles left of range and it’s been way above the 114 of the EPA indication.

        If you do a little searching you might find where BMW had reported the 94 ah i3 would get 124-130 miles of range, and that’s much closer to what I am seeing. So as far as efficiency Vs the Hyundai, something is amiss.

        No matter, the next few years are going to be great for EVs, I am looking forward to it, aren’t you?

        • SpiderDan says:

          But you aren’t driving an Ioniq in the same conditions, so your experience with the i3 doesn’t really tell you anything about their relative efficiency. For example, multiple people have reported getting over 300 miles in the 238-mile-rated Bolt.

        • nordlyst says:

          Definitely looking forward to it!

          My point was simply that what matters isn’t the material in it’s own right, but what you achieve with it. BMW achieved low weight and I’m pretty sure it makes the i3 more agile than an Ioniq. If so, that can matter. But surely you can agree that if no actual benefit were realized, just using expensive and exotic materials for the sake of saying it’s the same stuff used in Dreamliners would be quite pointless..? In short, I am not disputing that there may be real benefits, merely pointing out that the Dreamliner point in itself is not a valid argument.

          As for the Ioniq, I have read many tests, including several comparisons to the i3 94 Ah. And it is very clear that the Ioniq really is the new efficiency king, despite using lower-tech materials. Partly this is because the Ioniq has excellent aerodynamics, which the i3 doesn’t, but mostly it is because they have paid great attention to efficiency in the entire driveline. I just think it’s a pity Hyundai fitted such a 2015 battery in the car! If Renault can offer 41 kWh useable for less money it cannot have been prohibitively expensive for the Ioniq to at least come in one version with 40-50 kWh – and that would have been an extremely strong player in the 2017 EV market.

          I get impatient with how the EV market develops, but I admit that really if we look at the big picture change is happening quite fast. The Bolt/Ampera-e is another huge step forward, and with Model 3 hopefully just around the corner, and next-gen LEAF coming in September, and several others waiting in the wings, the pace will be steadily increasing. So all in all it’s a pretty exciting outlook!

          Enjoy your i3. It’s an awesome little car and I would love to have one myself, even if it’s not quite as efficient as an Ioniq! :)

  3. johnbl says:

    Nice piece…I have a 2014 Tera World BEV ($37.5K with fed incentive and dealer negotiation) and then last Oct got a second CPO BEV 2014 Tera World when I saw how much they would cost… $24K (with one free year of EVgo DC charging to sweeten the pie, and added BMW CPO warranty coverage).

    The car was like new when the dealer finished cleaning it up and correcting some of the use it showed. I just could not pass up this deal with an ICE sitting unused in my garage for the past two years, and my wife and I vying with each other to drive the i3. I love the BEV i3, and I know from driving it for two years that it works for me..range, accessories and comfort especially. It is the quality and performance that sold me on this BEV. While the CPO i3 did not qualify for the rebate from the feds…I do get the AZ BEV incentive which can save thousands over the life of ownership.

    I may give up one of these i3’s for a TSLA Mod 3 but the Bolt is just not capturing my interest..not the price, not the range, and definitely not the design.

    • nordlyst says:

      It’s not really possible to lose out on the incentives when buying a used EV, even though you’re not getting a tax break! The used car price obviously reflects any incentives available on the new car. Nobody, after all, would pay more for a used car than for a brand new one…

  4. Leon Loi says:

    I owned both I love them all

  5. mhompg says:

    “Both EVs require trips to the dealer to get updates as there are no over the air updates.”

    This isn’t fully true. The Bolt EV does in fact have “over the air” software updates which may make it the only vehicle to do this that isn’t made by Tesla. I just did a software update check on my own Bolt EV yesterday.

    However, no actual updates have been published to the public yet (test cars driven by GM employees are getting updates) and we don’t know how GM will use this capability. Will it just be bug fixes of existing features. Will they update the software to add new features to existing customer cars like Tesla? The updates might only be for the center infotainment screen and safety or powertrain software updates might still require dealer visits. It isn’t clear yet.

  6. Bob Morane says:

    The i3 could have been a better car. The bolt should have been AWD then. FWD BEV makes no sense.

    • guest says:

      Yes, the i3 should have been a better car, then it might have garnered more than 2 World Car of the Year Awards, before going on to become the most awarded EV of 2014. And yes, AWD., because BEVs definitely need more weight, cost & complexity.

      • nordlyst says:

        Well, AWD of course adds much less weight, cost and complexity to an EV than it does to an ICE. So to the extent that AWD makes sense, it makes more sense in an EV (providing all the same benefits but with less of the drawbacks). This is a consequence of electric motors and drivetrains being dramatically simpler than ICE propulsion systems. You would never mechanically transfer power from one electric motor to both axles, but instead use one motor per axle (or even one per wheel). You know, like Tesla does.

        I live in Norway and although I seldom need it would appreciate AWD some winter days. :p

  7. guest says:

    Also Australian Car of the Year, a 1st for BMW Down Under.

  8. Birdog says:

    Chevy Bolt!?! Just look at the Volt!
    https://youtu.be/rjHKvebGK4M

    • nordlyst says:

      I don’t know what the feds did or didn’t do, but EVs are less prone to fires and have significantly less disaster potential than ICE vehicles. Consider that even the biggest battery pack you can get in an EV today (100 kWh, Tesla) holds only as much energy as 3 gallons of gasoline! And while short-circuited batteries can release that energy much more quickly than we’d like them to, they are still far short of the explosive potential of fossil fuels. It is inherently simply much, much safer technology.

      Of course specific errors in specific designs can still mean that it’s possible to build an EV that is more prone to fire than an ICE – but all the data I have ever seen shows the opposite.

  9. Jim Smith says:

    i cross shopped the i3 Rex with the 2017 Volt and was amazed at how overpriced the i3 was. I have almost 14k on the Volt now, and have never looked back. The interior of the i3 and all BMWs for that matter, is not very good considering how much one pays for the logo. I read BMW is upping their interior game due to how Mercedes is beating on them. The Bolt and Volt should serve as a wake up call to BMW…they need a lot better car if they are going to ask people to pay so much more money.

    • nordlyst says:

      I agree. But the real wake-up call will be Model 3, if Tesla succeeds at making it in high volume. GM is positioning itself in case EVs become commercially important, but they aren’t interested in the market going there and don’t intend to sell as many Bolts as possible. In fact, they are actively lobbying against EV-friendly and ICE-hostile policy, and seem likely to have some success with this too now that Trump is in charge and assigned a serial EPA adversary and friend of the fossil fuel industry as head of that very agency..!

  10. nordlyst says:

    > If you have a BMW i3, I wouldn’t sell it to buy a Bolt. However, if you are in the market for a new EV, I’d definitely take a long look at the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.

    This makes no sense whatsoever. Whether or not selling your i3 and getting a Bolt is a good idea clearly depends a whole lot on your situation. A lot of people who own the i3, especially the 22 kWh version, also have an ICE and cannot easily get rid of it because the i3 doesn’t have enough range for the longer trips. Many of them *can* get rid of the ICE if they switch to a Bolt, and will save money doing so.

    Of course there are many other considerations. The relatively narrow and thin seats in the Bolt are not to everyone’s liking, for example. But if the Bolt is preferable to the i3 if you’re getting a new car then it is also worth considering switching to – especially for those who are likely to end up saving money doing so.

    It is hard to say how well the Bolt will hold its value, but it is easy to predict that the BMW will depreciate a lot. A range increase from about 100 to well over 200 is worth a lot more to almost anyone than a further increase from 240 to, say, 350. In fact, the Bolt has enough range that users will really only need fast charging on very long trips. Most people take such long trips only a couple of times in a year, and need or at least want to take some breaks along the way anyway. While it’s not as convenient as filling up petrol, with a little planning it is actually a very minor inconvenience. I’m aware that the infrastructure isn’t great everywhere in the US, but this situation will improve dramatically before 2020. The point I’m trying to get at is that having much more range than a Bolt is not really something that is worth much to most people, and I therefore think the car will hold up its value a lot better than the about-100-mile EVs that early adopters (myself included; I drive a 2012 LEAF and am constantly pondering what to get next and when to strike!) bought.

    With 200 miles soon to be the new baseline range for EVs we can expect the early cars to drop even faster in price this year and the next than they’ve done so far. Of course, the 200-mile cars are likely to get cheaper and the Bolt too will suffer depreciation, but much less so if I’m correct. :)

    • Nick Araya says:

      Can anyone talk about the turning radius of the Bolt? I’ve looked all over the interwebs and can’t seem to find the answer. I think it must be horrible and chevy is trying to not bring it up!

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